When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Non-ordinary Realities by Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph. D.

When the Impossible Happens is a fascinating, extraordinary book filled with eye-opening accounts of alternative states of consciousness. Stan Grof, one of the foremost explorers and authorities on consciousness, has written a memoir that is warm, personal and detailed. His insights into these non-ordinary realities and the potential they hold for transformation are incredible — and the stories are captivating.

Readers may be familiar with Dr. Grof from his many prior books, which follow his career through early clinical experiments with LSD, to the founding of Transpersonal Psychology, and to his development of Holotropic Breathwork as a new method to reach these alternative states of consciousness. When the Impossible Happens ties it all together for the first time in the most fascinating way — we get a true sense of the author’s journey into consciousness and the passions that drove him to continue despite ridicule and reluctance from the mainstream community to accept his findings.

The stories tell it all — these non-ordinary states of reality illuminate a different Cosmos and a cosmic consciousness that is way beyond mainstream science and psychology. Reported first by Dr. Grof’s patients and later from his own experiments and workshops, these stories encompass synchronicities, in-utero and birth memories, past-life events, ESP, and cellular or DNA memories of our ancestors. They include forays into the cosmos, other possible dimensions, and experiences as animals, trees and inanimate objects.

What they all have in common is that they are “holotropic” experiences, a phrase that Grof coined, meaning “moving toward wholeness.” The idea is that each event, or experience in a non-ordinary reality carries with it the potential to transform the person and move them toward wholeness. Grof’s own story of how he was initially shocked and skeptical of these experiences and how they slowly transformed his life, his worldview and his patient’s lives explains his growing passion to continue working with these states. The author is quite honest in his admission that he hopes that When the Impossible Happens will inspire others to continue this work.

Throughout Grof’s extraordinary journey, he has met, befriended or worked with some phenomenal people — the stories read like a Who’s Who of leaders in consciousness, mysticism, religion, science and psychology — Joseph Campbell, Sai Baba, Michael Harner,Rupert Sheldrake, and Karl Pribram, among others — virtually everyone who came through the Esalen Institute, as well as encounters with Vaclev Havel and Carl Sagan. The connections and interactions between all these great minds make for added interest in a story that is already pretty wild and mind-blowing.

Dr. Grof’s passion for his work may be exceeded only by his conviction that these non-ordinary states of consciousness are a part of all of us — that the potential for a mystical experience is our human birthright, and that new models of the human psyche must begin to incorporate these transformative experiences. As the author illustrates, people have reached these states in a variety of ways for thousands of years — through drumming, chanting, breathwork, occasionally through plants or mushrooms, but even accidentally from great emotional or physical shock.

Therefore, these case-reports cannot be dismissed as “drug-induced” fantasies. They must be a natural part of the human psyche. It is Grof’s belief that mainstream psychiatry and psychology are too dismissive, not only of the phenomena itself, but of the enormous healing and transformative potential these states offer. The author feels that if psychology as a field is to grow and remain meaningful in the future, then they must begin to incorporate this expanded view of consciousness. With more than fifty years of experience to back him, Stan Grof’s When the Impossible Happens is certainly going to be hard to ignore.

Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Stanislav Grof is a psychiatrist with more than 40 years of experience researching nonordinary states of consciousness. His books include The Holotropic Mind; The Human Encounter With Death (written with Joan Halifax); The Stormy Search for the Self (written with Christina Grof); and The Cosmic Mind: Explorations of the Frontiers of Human Consciousness. For more information visit Dr. Stan Grof’s website at www.holotropic.com

review by Cheryl Shainmark